All in all, it really doesnt matter, Once Upon A Time In Mexico proves that Rodriguez has run out of gas. The director has already over-worshipped at the altars of Peckinpah and Leone. I mean, come on, when does homage turn into plagiarism? And now hes virtually looting his own imitations for a bloody display of surreal stuck-in-a-rut filmmaking. At least Rodriguezs mentor, Quentin Tarantino had the good sense to stop making movies for a while because the ideas werent there. In Once Upon A Time In Mexico, were visited by the brooding man with no name who once had revenge in his heart. Antonio Banderas saunters through town knowing hes got all manner of firepower in his guitar case. Salma Hayek, who thankfully doesnt talk much in what amounts to a pointless cameo, plays the fetching female seemingly only because this kind of movie needs a fetching female. If my memory serves me correctly, the plot point involving her in this movie doesnt seem to gibe with her plot point in Desperado. Lets just say she was once Banderas love interest, and leave it at that.
Heres the gist of the story: CIA agent Johnny Depp would like the president of Mexico dead. But, he doesnt want him dead at the hands of an assassin. So he signs on the mysterious singing gunman (Banderas as El Mariachi) to kill the killer. Theres a drug lord played by Willem Dafoe who seems to be channeling Orson Welles idea of Mexican badness from his Touch of Evil. The overthrow of the Mexican government is at the center of the movie, but hyperventilating around the edges of this overwrought feature are all manner of characters (like a fascistic general), some friendly, some less so, who participate in the goings-on, and there are all manner of goings-on. The movie is like a maze without an exit. You want Cheech Marin? You got im. You want Ruben Blades? You got him, too. You want Mickey Rourke? Oh yes, hes here as well.
Rodriguez is a multitasking director. He does everything. And he does it in the comfort of his house outside Austin, Texas. No Hollywood excess for him, which proves that you dont have to live in Los Angeles to make convoluted, violent, cinematic junk food. In addition to writing and directing this rehashed mishmash, he photographed the movie himself using high-definition video. He also produced it, wrote the familiar music (all hail Ennio Morriconi), and edited the picture, or, as it reads in the opening credits, chopped it. Fortunately, the film doesnt look like a home movie, which is its saving grace. If you like your action gonzo, then this feature could be right up your alley. The blood flows and flows and flows. There are some truly indulgent action scenes, and I will attest that there is a visceral excitement to them. For a while. How many times can Rodriguez shatter images? As many times as he wants to, I guess. How many times can he lead the audience down one path and then disappear into one of the myriad subplots? Too often for me. I dont mind incoherence if its coherent. Comic book fantasies are great in comic books. Rodriguez is all over the place because hes bereft of ideas. My sense of El Mariachi and Desperado were that romance played an important role in their story lines. Revenge was sweet. All weve got now is slaughter for the sake of stylized slaughter.
The whole enterprise collapses into a jumble of conspiracy and danger with no way out except the front door of the movie theater. By Michael Calleri ALT Movie Editor
It seems that director-screenwriter Robert Rodriguez is going to keep making the same movie until he gets it just the way he wants it, or at least until no studio gives him money to rekindle the work of classical stylists like Sam Peckinpah or Sergio Leone.